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New Google tool can track in-store purchases spurred by online ad campaigns

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The next time you pick up a discounted undershirt at American Eagle, Google might know. This at the Mountain View, California-based search giant’s annual advertiser conference, it announced a new tool that will allow it to track how much money people spend — and on which products they spend it — in brick-and-mortar stores.

It will tie into Google’s digital advertising business. When the integration launches in earnest this year, the ad clicks of Google Account users will be matched to data about their brick-and-mortar purchases. The company won’t be able to examine specific items purchased or how much a specific person spent, but it will use the collated data to track the effectiveness of online ad campaigns. And eventually, it will give retailers a detailed sales report.

Google’s using login information such as email addresses to identify the people clicking on ads. It matches that data with information from merchants and credit card issuers to determine if digital ads motivated an offline purchase.

It won’t work for all payments. Retail customers who pay with cash or use one of the 30 percent of U.S. debit and credit cards that Google can’t access won’t be tracked. And it only tracks customers who login to Google’s services. But it’s an improvement over the current system, which susses out users’ interests mainly from web searches and the content they consume across the company’s services — including Gmail, YouTube, and Android.

And it’s a veritable firehouse of purchases. Google said it has access to roughly 70 percent of U.S. credit and debit card sales through partnerships with companies that track them.

Google’s insists that it’s taken steps to protect users’ privacy. Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president of ads and commerce, told the Associated Press that “incredibly smart people” designed the new tool to be “secure and […] safe.” Data’s collected in a double-blind way, he said, meaning that data Google’s collected can’t be viewed by merchants or credit partners.

Google’s hoping the new system will convince merchants to boost advertising budgets. The company, which runs an ad network valued at $80 billion, faces increasing competition from social media juggernaut Facebook. Together, the two companies are projected make up 74 percent of digital ad growth in 2017.

Two months ago, major YouTube advertisers including Coca-Cola,, Walmart, Starbucks, and Microsoft pulled campaigns from YouTube, citing faulty filters that prevented ads from appearing next to homophobic, anti-Semitic, and racist content. In response, Google made changes to YouTube’s advertising terms of service and said it would improve its blend of user flagging, human moderation, and algorithmic detection.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. In the first fiscal quarter of 2017, Google reported growth in ad sales of 19 percent to $21.4 billion.

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